Swindon's 160 greatest headline makers...part 7
Updated 4:08pm Thursday 31st July 2014 in By Barry Leighton
TO celebrate the Adver’s 160th anniversary this year we present a Swindon Roll of Honour comprising 160 headline makers from the history of our town.
Here you will find those whose work and achievements have helped raise the standing and profile of both the town and the borough, or who have striven to improve the lives of ordinary folk.
It includes the greats of industry, commerce and technology along with those who have gained prominence through sport, arts, culture and media.
We have attempted to cut through the strata of Swindon life to include some of the town’s many colourful characters…along with two horses, a dog and one or two who have brought infamy crashing down upon us.
We now bring you part seven in our series of ten.
MARTIN, SIR GEORGE (1926) CBE
A long-time resident of Coleshill near Highworth, Sir George has been widely acclaimed as The Fifth Beatle.
A recording engineer, arranger and composer with a background in classical music, he was producing novelty records at Abbey Road studios when in 1962 he signed and recorded a largely unknown beat group from Liverpool.
The rest, as they say, is history. Over the next eight years Martin helped The Beatles sculpt some of pop’s most innovative and cherished music on a succession of classic singles along with ground-breaking LPs such as Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Revolver, The White Album and Abbey Road.
He is considered one of the greatest record producers of all time with 30 Number One UK singles and 23 in the States.
MASTERS, JIM (1920-1999)
Having taken part in the D-Day landings Jim was among British troops on hand to help survivors of the infamous Belsen concentration camp.
He rarely spoke of the experience but returned to Swindon and his old job at the railway works, wholly focused on helping others. Over the years he embarked on numerous campaigns to aid the town’s poor, elderly and vulnerable.
Becoming a councillor in 1963, he remained as such for the rest of his life, dying on the eve of the New Millennium on December 31, 1999.
Months earlier Jim became a Freeman of Swindon in recognition both of 36 years as a councillor and his untiring work on behalf of many local causes.
MCCLUSKEY, MARIE (1948-) MBE
Marie McCluskey transformed contemporary dance in Swindon, opening up what was largely an inaccessible form of art to countless local people.
Having trained and worked as a dancer in London, she came to Swindon in 1972 and set up a private dance school.
Four years later Marie began working at what became Swindon Dance at the former town hall where she has now been director for 35 years. Under her guidance the studio has attained national recognition and prestige.
In 1993 Marie was awarded the MBE for services to dance and has since won a string of accolades and awards for her pioneering work in Swindon.
MCILROY, WILLIAM (1850-1915)
From humble origins as an Irish draper, McIlroy came to England where in 1875 he ambitiously opened large department stores in Swindon and Reading.
“The House for Everything” was the motto of his prominent Swindon establishment – the biggest shop in town.
The success of McIlroys continued after his death with branches opening throughout the south.
McIlroys in Regent Street became a mainstay of the town centre and was even at the heart of its social scene, staging top bands at its multi-purpose ballroom, including The Beatles in 1962.
There was a real sense of loss and sadness when McIlroys unexpectedly closed as a result of increased competition in 1998, signalling the end of 123 years of trading in Swindon.
MATHESON, ROSA (age not revealed)
Historian, fund-raiser, author, anti-violence campaigner and the organiser of many wide-ranging local events from art festivals to fairs aimed at helping mums return to work.
Over nearly three decades Highworth mother-of-four and one-time JP Rosa has made a huge contribution to Swindon and its community.
With a Phd in women’s history and research, she has written a number of books on the GWR in Swindon including one focusing on the largely unsung contribution of women who worked there.
Dr Matheson has also founded two charities in Nepal aimed at helping orphans and hard-pressed local women and was responsible for Swindon’s recent “Say no to violence against women” campaign.
MELLOR, STAN (1937-) MBE
Mellor became the first National Hunt jockey to ride 1,000 winners and was Champion Jockey three years on the trot, from 1960 to 1962.
A tough man, he was also reckoned to have taken around 750 falls. After one particularly bad tumble at Cheltenham his wife Elain exclaimed: “Oh my God, his head has come off.”
Awarded the MBE for an illustrious career in the saddle, in 1972 he became a trainer, basing himself at Foxhill near Wanborough.
Over nearly 30 years he trained more than 700 winners from the stables he named Pollardstown after his 1979 Triumph Hurdle winner.
But he always felt he was “too laid back” to have been a major success. He still lives locally at Ashbury.
MESSENGER, MELINDA (1971-)
Former Dorcan college student Melinda was a Swindon marketing manager when she decided to chance it as a model.
She dramatically cracked it in a 1997 advertising campaign for double glazing when a provocative photograph of Melinda appeared at bus stops under the logo “the class behind the glass”.
Suddenly she was the nation’s hottest glam model-cum-Page Three girl, recipient of the Rear of the Year title and hailed as Girl of the Thrillenium.
However, she was also charming and articulate which enabled her to move seamlessly into TV, presenting a series of programmes including Melinda’s Big Night In, Live from Studio Five, Cowboy Builders, Can We Still Be Friends, Fort Boyard and Baby, Baby.
Mother-of-three Melinda was also made an ambassador to Barnardo’s by its president Camilla Duchess of Cornwall.
MILLIN, ELSIE (1902-1995) MBE
During the hardships of the 1920s Elsie made fortnightly house collections on behalf of the unemployed, setting the scene for a lifetime’s work for the needy and under-privileged.
Over the decades, and in a variety of capacities and roles usually involving the voluntary and welfare sectors, she worked and campaigned for handicapped, sick, elderly, blind and impoverished people.
Women’s groups also came into Elsie’s sphere, as did a huge variety of social issues ranging from the standard of housing to the cost of gas.
In 1981 she was awarded the MBE for 47 years of public work. A year later she and fellow socially-minded former local councillor Elsie Hazell were the first women to become Freemen of Swindon.
MORRIS, DESMOND (1928-)
Best-selling author, zoologist, TV presenter, film-maker, Doctor of Philosophy, surrealist painter… Morris is a man of many talents.
A friend of Diana Dors, he grew up in Swindon where his great grandfather William founded the Advertiser.
“Art obsessed”, he staged his first exhibition aged 20 before zoology became a passion which eventually saw him present more than 500 episodes of ITV’s popular Zoo Time programme.
Morris’s 1967 book The Human Ape – a study of human behaviour from a zoologist’s perspective – became a worldwide hit.
Many books – sometimes with TV spin-offs – followed from the ever prolific Morris including The Soccer Tribe, Bodywatching, Animalwatching, The Human Animal, The Naked Man, Baby: A Portrait of the First Two Years and Planet Ape.
MORRIS, HARRY (1897-1985)
A recent poll of Town fans, conducted via Twitter, saw Morris voted the club’s greatest player of all time, hogging 70 per cent of the poll.
A £110 bargain buy from Swansea, Morris scored 47 league goals in just 41 appearances during his first season at the County Ground in 1926/27 – still a club record.
An 11-match run during that season saw him chalk up 19 goals, scoring in every game.
The ever-prolific striker went on to become the top scorer for his remaining six seasons at Swindon, ending with 215 goals from 260 Town appearances, including 18 hat-tricks.
MORRIS, WILLIAM (1826-1891)
Our founder and father, when Morris published the Swindon Advertiser on February 6, 1854, it was the country’s first penny newspaper.
A towering and often controversial figure of Victorian Swindon, Morris was outspoken, bullish and an inveterate champion of the common man.
His campaigns, mounted through the pages of the Advertiser, were forthright and vigorous; he often took on the wealthy and powerful and especially despised blood sports.
His effigy was once raised in Market Square, resulting in a punch-up between those who hated him and local railwaymen who rallied to his cause.
A Great Swindonian, Morris can also lay claim to being our first historian, having in 1885 published the quaintly titled Reminiscences, Notes and Relics of Ye Old Wiltshire Town (reprinted in 1970).
MORTIMER, EDMUND (1905-1985)
On the kitchen table at his home in Whiteman Street, Gorse Hill, Edmund ‘Monty’ Mortimer invented a machine that revolutionised the way music would be played for generations to come.
During the 1920s he was working for Swindon firm Garrard which made motors for gramophone players.
At the time machines on which records could be stacked and played automatically were complex and expensive.
But with the aid of a sewing machine and a piece of stove pipe, Monty concocted a ‘pick-up’ arm mechanism that Garrard chiefs swiftly patented.
The unique invention went straight into production and as well as becoming a milestone in British engineering, had an immediate impact for millions of music lovers around the world.
NEILSON, EDDIE (1950-)
The ‘Shrivenham Steamroller’ is the Swindon area’s most successful heavyweight boxer.
Neilson was the only man to have fought both three-time European heavyweight champion Joe Bugner and future world champion Frank Bruno.
In 1982 he was stopped by Bugner in the fifth round due to a cut eye and months later succumbed to Bruno in the third, also as a result of the same un-healed eye. During a professional career spanning the 1970s and early 1980s, Neilson won 29 of his 37 fights, which included 24 knockouts.
For several years in the 1990s and with the grateful backing of many local residents, Eddie fought an ongoing war against prostitution in Central Swindon’s red-light area, confronting pimps, call girls and kerb crawlers.
NEW, EDITH (1877-1951)
Chaining themselves to railings, smashing the windows at Number Ten, embarking on hunger strikes.
At the start of the 20th Century the suffragette movement re-wrote the rules of protest. In the middle of it all was Swindon teacher Edith New.
The daughter of a GWR railway clerk, Edith became a prime mover in the fight for women’s votes and was involved in some of the campaign’s most high-profile demos.
She spent several terms in prison in England and Scotland in the battle for female emancipation, ranging from two weeks to two months. The arrival of war 100 years ago saw a temporary truce declared in the female votes issue but she continued the campaign afterwards.
- To be continued...
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